The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I feel like maybe I’ve mentioned before that Patrick Ness is my favourite writer (YA or otherwise), before? If I haven’t – Hey, Patrick Ness is probably my favourite writer (YA or otherwise).

When I found out he was writing a new YA novel, I was obviously crazy excited. On the morning that proof copies of The Rest of Us Just Live Here became available to booksellers, I’d emailed a plea to Walker for one before half past eight in the morning. Turns out I was not the only one… And Walker had a hard time trying to meet the huge demand for the book. I half jokingly tweeted that I was still desperate to get my copy (after seeing tweets of others holding theirs in their lucky hands)…

…Only to have Mr. Ness respond DIRECTLY to help me get my copy sent to my shop FIRST CLASS. Now, I felt like an absolute arse for having that done, because honestly, I in no way deserve special treatment – I’m an idiot. But it does go a huge way towards highlighting how important fans are to Patrick, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. I will also forever be sorry. SO SORRY. Everyone at Walker are fantastic for being so wonderful about everything.

Such a striking, simple jacket .

Such a striking, simple jacket .

The Rest of Us is not the story of the end of the world. I mean, the end of the world is going on, but that’s not what the book is about. The super cool indie kids will probably save the day, and die in the process – they normally do. For Mikey, his Sister Mel, and their best friends Jared and Henna, it’s the final year of high school and they just want to graduate and get out of their boring little town. None of them are the chosen ones, they’re just hoping they can get out before someone blows up the school. Again. But graduating from high school is its own ending – maybe not as dramatic as the end of the world, but as a teenager, it is pretty close. Mikey worries about his sister’s old eating problems coming back with a vengeance without him there to keep an eye on her. He worries about Jared and him drifting apart, going to different colleges in the same city. He worries about Henna’s parents taking her on a mission to an African war zone and about never getting to kiss her. He worries about his obsessive compulsive loops that have started to come back, trapping him in dangerous, painful and infuriating cycles of washing or counting. What if he gets stuck in a loop at college and there’s no-one there to stop him? When weird things start happening in the town, the four friends barely even notice it – strange blue lights, dead teenagers and undead deer are hardly their business.There’s much bigger problems to think about – namely the future.

FLAIL. This book is so excellent. So beautiful. So honest and so painful.

tumblr_inline_n6wr5jzuqb1s9nclc

Mikey is the narrator of the story, so we see the world through his perpetually anxious mind set. He worries a huge amount about everything around him and that was something I instantly connected with. He has a controlling streak to him, and it’s brave of Ness to give him this negative, jealous and possessive side, but it’s ultimately all in the name of creating a fully formed, realistic character – and he does, he absolutely does. There’s also some underlying themes of being scared of being the least wanted person in the room, of being certain that compliments are platitudes to make him feel better, and that resonated with me really really powerfully. To the point of crying a lot. Mikey is a broken, messy and confused young person, and Ness manages to make him neither saint, nor sinner, which is ultimately the point of The Rest of Us – real people aren’t always heroes. Real people have flaws the size of chasms and that’s okay. Mel, Mikey’s sister, is a fierce, strident and powerful young woman, but she also has her darker sides, and while her eating disorder is discussed mostly in hindsight, it’s still done respectfully but honestly. Her love and dedication for her brother are overwhelming, even through his negativity. Jared is stoic, but he’s full of passion and understanding, and his relationship with Mikey is beautiful, blisteringly honest and filled with bittersweet sadness, as the two of them come to terms with the inevitable drifting apart that comes with growing up; and Henna is wonderfully sweet and understanding, all while filled with her own doubts and making her own mistakes. She seems perfect from Mikey’s perspective, but there’s hidden flaws hinted at in the story that help give her depth beyond what we read.

Excellent Question.

Excellent Question.

I absolutely loved the way this story is told. By dropping the “indie kids” story in short snippets at the start of each chapter, we get a glimpse into the epic disaster that’s going on as the backdrop of the coming-of-age story in the foreground. Patrick Ness is able to use trends and stereotypes in YA fiction with a wry sense of irony and a tongue-in-cheek humour, be it references to when all the indie kids fell in beautiful but doomed love with vampires, or when they were beautifully dying of cancer – he captures the tropes perfectly, with just enough of a mix of love and mockery to make the reader smile. It’s a clever way of reflecting our own lives, too, because of course we all live our own little stories against the backdrop of dramatic, awful events that we’re unable to influence.

Ultimately, The Rest of Us is a story of the hope, fear, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with the end of childhood and the trepidation that comes with stepping into the life of adulthood. It condenses the pressures that young people feel at this stage of their life – both from the outside and from the inside, and weaves this sense of melancholy into the very bones of the words it uses. It also portrays mental illness in a blunt, honest and painful way that helps to break up stigmas and stereotypes. OCD is not liking your books in alphabetical order – it’s a dangerous and debilitating disease. In this way, as well others, Ness has created a diversity in his characters that so many books still beg for, and certainly that the community is crying out for.

Look, no-one is surprised in the slightest that I just loved this book. I know, I’m predictable… But it’s going to be another hit.

Thanks so much for reading, always.

D

P.S. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is out on the 27th of August, you can pre-order it here.

P.P.S. You can follow Patrick Ness on Twitter here.

P.P.P.S (is that a thing?) I feel like the reference to blowing up the high school could be a Buffy thing, and if it is then YAY.

Advertisements

My Top Ten Reads of 2014!

Another year is gone, and so many books have been read and celebrated… And what a year for books it’s been! We saw the very first Literature Convention for Young Adult books, and I was lucky enough to get myself along to YALC, and for all the warmth, and the swamping crowds, it was an absolute success. And now the Bookseller has launched a YA Book Prize to celebrate fantastic Young Adult books, with a phenomenal shortlist announced a little while ago, so it looks like 2015 is going to be big too. Twitter has been a fantastic place to celebrate all things YA too, especially the UKYA chats and events organised by Lucy from Queen of Contemporary and Jim over at YAYeahYeah, and I strongly recommend you join us using the hashtag #UKYAChat if you get the chance!

SO, I suppose it’s about time that I do a run through of my top ten books of the year! This will be one of many; I’m sure, so if you’re reading it then THANK YOU. Obviously, not every great book I’ve read this year can make it to the list, but I review the ones I’ve enjoyed on the blog so you can check them out! Some of the books on the list have been published in 2013, or are set to come out next year, but if I’ve read them this year, they’re going on the list AND THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. In no particular order:

10. THE MESSENGER OF FEAR by Michael Grant

9781405265157
Michael Grant’s GONE series holds a special place in my heart as one of the first teen fiction series that I got into as a (supposed) adult, and while I couldn’t get into BZRK in the same way, the concept of The Messenger of Fear grabbed me from the go – Filled with dark mystery and an oppressive sense of dread, this is Grant on top form with a narrative force that drives the story through twists and turns at breakneck speed. It also deals with mental health in a heartbreakingly bleak, but honest method that I was glad to see making its way into YA literature. It’s got the makings of a great, gripping and blood-chilling series.

9. IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

9781472105523
A fantastically witty, touching and heartbreaking novel, In Bloom is from an incredibly talented author from my neck of the woods (well, Newcastle – close enough) which faces tragedy and terminal illness head on with a sense of humour and genuine honesty that can make you cry with laughter and from emotion in the same page. Unlike some other YA Novels about, I found that Matthew’s use of dialogue was unpretentious, down to Earth and real, and all of his characters felt familiar and fully formed on the page. I loved each and every one of them, and that made it so much harder to read in a way. It also contains a set of sentences with broke my heart and will never leave me.

8. PAPER AEROPLANES by Dawn O’Porter

17315134
A triumph of hilarity and a resounding celebration of friendship, the first book in the saga of Renée and Flo is an absolute joy to read. So painfully touching, Dawn manages to capture the ups & downs and ins & outs of a teenage friendship perfectly, leaving me laughing out loud on more than one 7:30am train to work. She perfectly moulds her characters throughout the book, creating two flawed, funny girls who I became friends with too, and she never pulls her punches with the difficulties of life as a teenage girl. I was lucky enough to get to meet Dawn in Newcastle as part of her tour for Goose, the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes, and she was a warm and delightfully happy and welcoming person who was brilliant to work with.

7. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

16143347
One of the biggest successes of YA in 2014, We Were Liars is a swirling mysterious story of decadence, love, betrayal and tragedy. Told in a beautiful mix of metaphors and hyperbole, We Were Liars constantly teases the reader with potential endings and red herrings and keeps you on edge throughout, as well as wrapping you up in a dream-like sense that mirrors the main character’s memory loss perfectly. It’s a fantastic read that completely absorbed me and had an ending that totally blew me away – Well worth the hype that surrounded it.

6. SAY HER NAME by James Dawson

w512713
MORE HORROR PLEASE. Okay, I admit it; I’m a horror novel nut – But James’ suspense filled modern retelling of the legend of Bloody Mary absolutely stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was one of the bestsellers in my shop, and it went down a storm with the Durham YA Book Club, because of how perfectly it weaves together a subtle spooky atmosphere with a modern, contemporary setting that everyone is familiar with. He pulls together his loves for good old fashioned Point Horror books and the twisted darkness of J-Horror masterfully (two of my own obsessions as a teenager) and creates an atmosphere that glues you to the page with tension, superb characters and a haunting sadness.

5. ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET by Oliver Jeffers

817f9UengnL
That’s right. It’s a picture book in my list. WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?! Once Upon an Alphabet is probably the finest picture book published this year, and may be one of the best Jeffers has ever done. The 26 short stories range from absolutely hilarious and silly, to almost tragic and dark, all combined with the iconic illustrations that made me fall in love with his picture books in the first place. It’s definitely one that works on adult’s levels as well as on children’s, which is exactly the kind of sophistication and versatility you want from a picture book.

4. GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith

GrasshopperJungle June 27 13
Oh. My. God. The most insane book you will ever read, but also in a strange way, really important. Andrew’s coming-of-age story with added giant murderous praying mantises (Mantii? Nah.) is wonderfully left field, with a phenomenally funny and confused narrator who’s rambling historical tangents build the book’s world superbly. As well as a classic, B-Movie feel to it, Grasshopper Jungle also approaches sexual confusion in its teen characters with a hilarious honesty that is so very lacking in other YA titles. It’s violent and gore-filled, rude and stupid in places, just like being a teenager, and his dialogue has a Tarantino quality to it – sometimes it’s not about the plot, sometimes it’s about nothing at all, but it always feels natural and flows perfectly.

3. SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman

20618110
Solitaire holds such a special place in my heart for so many reasons, but primarily it’s because of Tori Spring, the passive, miserable and morose teen protagonist of the book, who I gelled with immediately, having been quite a melodramatic teenager myself. Alice’s characters are perfectly realised, right down to names that roll of the tongue, and slick dialogue that snaps and crackles on the page. The story is a brilliantly dark thriller playing on familiar school elements and using a very current hacktavist theme, with Alice’s obvious disdain for the school system radiating across every page. It’s intelligent and funny, with nods to the worlds of blogging and fandoms in just the right places without trying too hard. Alice also came to the most successful YA Book Club I’ve had at Durham to date, so I have that to thank her for too!

2. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson

AOBN_Spine_on
Official publication date for this one is in January, but you can find it in shops already, and I seriously urge you to! Beautiful, evocative and absolutely enchanting, The Art of Being Normal is already making waves in the Twitterverse, and rightly so – A YA novel that deals with transgender issues and discovery with dignity and a serious emotional heart behind it, which is something seriously important. Outside of that, it’s a great story too, with a melancholy kitchen-sink drama aspect to it that keeps the story grounded and makes the characters familiar and relatable. And what characters! Both of the lead characters are fantastic, and they oppose each other and support each other perfectly. It’s a real feel good story too, and it made me laugh, cry and gasp out loud and I already feel very passionate about getting into the hands of fans of modern, beautiful contemporary stories to warm your heart and echo around your brain forever.

1. TROUBLE by Non Pratt

18138917
Oh Trouble. What a fantastic book. I’ve never come across fictional teenagers like the characters in Non’s book, so vulgar and genuine and emotionally complex, just perfect. The story is down to earth and charged with so many feelings and emotions that ripple through the wonderful characters that populate Trouble’s world. The heartfelt blooming friendship between Hannah and Aaron is fantastic, and Aaron has to be the character I’ve had the most empathy towards all year. I honestly never expected to be so completely swept away by this book, but Non’s writing style is sharp and intelligent, and she makes you care about characters straight off the bat, and by the end of the book I found myself absolutely unable to put it down. The way Aaron’s back story is slowly, darkly teased out is breathtaking, and Hannah’s development from the opening to the close is absolutely fantastic, and the whole book buzzes with the energy and uncertainty of youth, with a passion that radiates out from the book. Basically, Non is a superb author with such a special talent for drawing readers in. Also, she signed my book with a hilarious thing at YALC.

Sorry, Non.

Sorry, Non.

So that’s that! A special mention to continuing series in 2014 – Lockwood & Co (Jonathan Stroud) and Department 19 (Will Hill) for being outstanding and exciting and keeping me up until 2am.
I hope everyone has had a great year, and as always, thank you so much for toddling over and reading the words I squeeze out of my brain. It means a lot to me to know people care about what I try to say, even if I tend to get a bit overboard with it all. I wouldn’t be doing it if people didn’t keep showing up.

Until next time,

D

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

You know when a book just seems entirely written to fit your tastes? Grasshopper Jungle is one of those books for me. When I first heard about it, I knew it was coming from Egmont imprint Electric Monkey, who are brilly at ace Teen/YA novels – So that ticked one box. Then I found it was a coming-of-age story, which I love as well, being a perpetually confused youngling (SEE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Catcher in the Rye, etc) – So that ticked a second box. OH, & it features homicidal Six Foot Tall Praying Mantises. Believe it or not, that also ticks a box for me – I’ve loved a good giant bug b-movie since I was a teenager, so I requested a proof as soon as possible. And oh. Oh boy.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Austin Szerba is a confused young man. Sixteen years old & unable to keep his mind focused on much more than sex & cigarettes. The book opens with him living his day to day life, chronicling his own personal history & the history of the rundown town of Ealing, Iowa, with his girlfriend, Shann Collins, who he loves, & with his best friend Robby Brees Jr, who he also loves. Possibly in the same way. Austin doesn’t think he’s gay, but his best friend is, & the two of them have a definite, unspoken attraction, so naturally he’s very confused about life. One day, skating in the stretch of abandoned wasteland in Ealing’s failing shopping mall – Known locally as Grasshopper Jungle, Austin & Robby are set upon by some older boys, who embark on some good old-fashioned bullying, beating the two up, before throwing their shoes on the roof of the nearby second hand store – From Attic to Seller. That night, the two friends decide to return to the shop & climb onto the roof & recover their discarded footwear, & once there, curiosity drives them into the back office of the store via a skylight on the roof. What they find, is a strange, morbid collection of old scientific experiments, severed heads, hands, two headed boys in jars, & some glowing blue mould marked MI Plague Strain 412E in a glass globe. Whilst fascinated by the dark & macabre displays in the back office of From Attic to Seller, the bullies from earlier in the day also break in, with the goal of stealing some booze from the adjoining liquor store. Austin & Robby manage to hide in the office, but overhear the older boys stealing the glowing orb of mould. And that is the night that started the end of the world. You see, once dropped, MI Plague Strain 214E is unleashed, mixing with Robby’s blood that stains the concrete in Grasshopper Jungle – With horrific consequences. Life in Ealing, Iowa, continues to tumble onwards, full of lonely drunks & failing businesses, while slowly, inside four teenage boys, grows a new, apex predator, bred in the Cold War from plant & insect DNA to be an unstoppable soldier. As more people come into contact with the broken globe’s contents, a small but violently powerful force begin hatching from their hosts, & they have primal insect brains that really only want to do two things: Eat & Make Babies. Bulletproof, lightning quick & armed with razor arms & mandibles, the Unstoppable Soldiers really are the apex predator in Ealing. Can Austin, Robby & Shann solves their differences, fight off a horde of horny, hungry giant bugs, grow up & live happily ever after? The outlook isn’t great.

I have so much praise for this book. SO MUCH. It’s such a hard story to describe, & I do really hope I’ve done it justice in that synopsis. I mean, it’s just nuts, violent, rude, funny, powerful & outstanding. Austin is a phenomenal narrator of the story, his historically obsessed tangents adding a real depth to the universe of the Szerba family, the town of Ealing, Iowa, & the world that Grasshopper Jungle takes place in. He’s a sharp, sensitive teen, with a lot of love for Shann & Robby, & an overwhelming sense of guilt over not doing the right thing – A struggle I think I have on a daily basis. The way him & Robby interact is achingly sweet, as well as brilliantly cool-yet-awkward. Andrew Smith has nailed teen idle chat perfectly, in a way that a lot of other books right now tend to overdo in a very flowery, over the top manner – Really reminding me of the existential thought processes of Holden Caulfield. Robby & Shann are only ever viewed from Austin’s perspective, but his deep love for both of them makes them glow & crackle on the page with passion, energy & attitude. His descriptions of other townspeople are funny, sharply observant, & oftentimes deeply despondent, creating a skewed, tragic & chucklesome portrait of small town American life.

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

More than just a horror/science fiction story, Grasshopper Jungle approaches concepts of sexual identity & confusion in an open, honest way that is seriously lacking in so much fiction for teens at the moment. It discusses the idea of bisexuality in a very down to earth way, without demonising it, & I think it’s a woefully misunderstood aspect of many young people’s lives that they need to be shown is perfectly okay. This book does that, it tackles with Austin’s inner confusion, probably an idea that many developing teenagers have been afraid to approach in their own “real” life, & that’s a very important idea that needs to be embraced more often in a funny, down-to-earth & relatable way. It also uses humour to make sexual topics seem much more approachable, less serious & just fun.

Also, did I mention giant bugs? The story is brilliantly teased out with an impending sense of dread, told in a Historical style from Austin’s future self, & using the old videos to slowly reveal the horrible history of the Unstoppable Soldiers – I found it absolutely enthralling reading, especially with the dry, witty narrative style that Andrew Smith uses to explain the end of the world. It has a wry sense of whimsy about such a violent situation, making the whole story a blood soaked black comedy like nothing else. I don’t feel like I’m describing the book well…

LOOK, this book is weird & funny, rude & violent, important in how it deals with difficult subjects & just… Crazy. It’s not for everyone, but if this has stirred your interest, you’re going to love it.

And that was our day. You know what I mean.

D

P.S. Obviously, in case you hadn’t gathered from my review, Grasshopper Jungle is pretty high-end teen, not suitable for younger readers. I’d say 15 upwards.

You can find publisher Electric Monkey on Twitter, as well as author Andrew Smith, AND lead character Austin Szerba!

Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O’Porter

Contrary to what people in my Secondary School may have told you, I have never been a teenage girl. So, when journalist & presenter Dawn O’Porter released her debut novel following the friendship of two 15 year old girls, it wasn’t one that I immediately thought I’d pick up… But then it turned up on the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize long list 2014, so I took a chance & stepped into the small island life of Guernsey, circa 1994. Then I laughed. And cried. And clutched the book to my heart.

The striking & simple jacket for Paper Aeroplanes.

The striking & simple jacket for Paper Aeroplanes.

Paper Aeroplanes follows the lives of two 15 year old girls, both very different in personality, but both from equally turbulent home lives, going through their GCSE year at Secondary School. Renée is a rambunctious, outgoing, troublemaker. After the death of her mother, her father absconds to start a new family, leaving her & her little sister Nell living on Guernsey with their grandparents. GCSE’s & her future are the last things on Renée’s  mind as she tries her hardest to find anything & everything to keep her distracted from her grandfather’s anger, her sister’s eating disorder & missing her mum. Flo is quiet, insular & compliant, living with her Mother, older brother Justin & baby sister Abi while her Dad & Mum try to work through a marriage crisis. As well as being ignored & pushed around at home, she also has to endure her drama queen of a “best friend” Sally at school, who builds up her own sense of importance by putting Flo down – Her looks, dress sense, etc – knowing full well that she’ll never fight back. During a drunken house party & a misplaced tampon, a strange, eclectic friendship blossoms between the extroverted Renée & the insular Flo – One that must be kept in secret, lest Sally makes both girl’s lives a living hell. Throughout a year of stress in school, constant family crisis & all the maddening developments of Teenage years, the two girls grow up in more ways than one, & start to understand the world from a greater perspective than themselves.

As always, I keep my mind open when going into a new book, & let me be the first to say that this is NOT a “girl’s book”. There’s so much warmth in this novel that I think it could appeal to boys & girls, adults & teens alike. Not unsurprisingly, I felt a great deal of familiarity with Flo, being an introverted, quiet teenager myself, & her inner turmoil over following Sally’s ever whim & fancy simply for the sake of tradition very much struck true with my own experiences with someone from school. As much as Renée’s personality wasn’t as in sync with my own, Dawn uses her home life & inner monologue to explain her outlandish, wild behaviour in a sombre, tragically directionless way that makes her character heartbreakingly lost. She’s so determined to find any distraction to take her away from her pain that she comes across not as a bratty wild-child, but as someone desperate for attention, & once I’d gotten that side of her, I started to understand her much better – I know there are times when I’ve just wanted to scream my lungs out just to get the tension out. Both characters have such passion & love for each other; it makes their blossoming friendship so amazing to follow. It’s full of raw, open honesty & absolutely selfless innocence. The two characters struggle with their lives, but also snap with energy & wit throughout the story, & both have fantastically satisfying character arcs – especially Flo, whose transition from Wallflower-dom is a EXACTLY what I wanted to happen for her. The supporting cast is a really heinous rogue’s gallery, with Sally topping the bill. She’s an awful human being, full of the petty bile of pretty teenagers in a small town school, & I think I haven’t really shouted at a character quite like that since Delores Umbridge of Harry Potter fame. Every scene she crops up in sent memories rocketing back into my brain of people in school who really suffered from “Big Fish in a Small Pond” syndrome. A close second in the list of awful human beings, Flo’s older brother Justin is a manipulative, sex-obsessed teenager who has no qualms about ruining friendships & lives just to get a chance for some action.

This picture of Dawn eating a burger is brilliant. And oddly alluring.

This picture of Dawn eating a burger is brilliant. And oddly alluring.

Although the plot is set over quite a spread of time (an entire school year), it feels well compacted, dashing past the quiet parts, & focusing on the long, endless days that we all remember so well from our own youth. Dawn manages to make entire afternoons last forever, & makes the reader’s heart burst with emotion over simple shared experiences. She’s dug into her own experiences & come out with a whole plethora of rich emotions across a dizzying spectrum, & the whole book has this veneer of nostalgia that makes it feel so much more real & warm, like the whole story is draped in a sepia coating that makes it feel like rich, comforting honey. At the same time, Dawn deals with some very important, & much ignored, issues of growing up for girls in a non-preachy, & hilariously down-to-earth way, & I think it’s a very important aspect of the book because it makes some scary & secret ideas much more accessible & helps bring them into everyday life.

There were moments of this book that made me cheer, bits that made me smile & reminisce, & bits that made me genuinely sob (Spoiler-free but… the Ashes on the wall, me oh my. I was on a TRAIN O’Porter!) – Paper Aeroplanes is a powerfully succinct book, short & to the point, revelling in emotion, drama & friendship. It’s a touching story that I urge on anyone who wants a chance to remember those teenage days.

Thanks for Reading, Feel Free to Share!

D

P.S. – Dawn’s book DOES deal with themes of a sexual nature, & employs strong language (as most 15 year olds do) – So be wary of letting girls pre-teens pick it up!

GOOSE - Anyone feel free to cram a proof in the post & wing it to Waterstones Durham!

GOOSE – Anyone feel free to cram a proof in the post & wing it to Waterstones Durham!

Dawn O’Porter continues the saga of Renée & Flo with Goose, due on the 3rd of April from HotKey Books.

You can find Dawn on Twitter (@Hotpatooties), as well as Hot Key Books, of course, & look out for Dawn’s UK book tour at the end of the month! Details on her website, here.

Geekhood by Andy Robb

HELLO WORLD! I’m actually tearing through books now, which is a welcome change from the last few months. HOWEVER, I’m a massive gamer, and this weekend saw the release of the amazing Gearbox sequel Borderlands 2, and I would be lying if I said it has not been taking up a lot of my time (19 hours since Friday at 11am…), but I’m still hammering some books, and today I’ll be reviewing the wonderful Geekhood by Andy Robb. Like the title said. Obviously.

Image
The Nerdtastic cover for Geekhood.

Archie is a Geek. A massive one. In fact, as Geeks go, our 14 year old hero is a textbook as they go: Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of The Rings and all. He lives with his Mum and her new boyfriend Tony (The Tosser), whilst trying to host perfect tabletop gaming nights in his new bedroom (see: LAIR), avoid facing his parents separation and generally avoid life in general. And Archie is happy in his little world, in which he talks to himself incessantly in sarcastic inner-monologue, whilst presenting the perfect, socially detached outer self to the world. Then of course, the inevitable happens, Archie meets a girl. Not just any girl, but Sarah, the new Goth girl in school, and not only does she notice Archie, but she’s also the singularly most beautiful creature he’s ever seen, like a Unicorn crossed with a Mermaid by way of a Siren. Or something. Geekhood follows Archie’s story, his journey… NO, his quest, to shed his Geekdom, settle in to an adult life, sort his parents out AND win fair maiden’s heart. Of course, it doesn’t all quite work as simply as that. Turns out a Dragon and rapidly falling hit points aren’t the worst thing to face in the dead of night, it’s inner turmoil and a very irate Gargoyle…

I am a Geek. No need to rush to comfort me, I’ve been a Geek since I first started searching the RAF base I grew up on for UFO’s, through Star Wars, Star Trek, The X-Files, R.A. Salvatore and beyond, and I’m happy in the person I am. One thing that first concerned me about Geekhood is that I hate it when Geek culture is played out wrong, that drives me nuts, and I’m always worried Geeks might be patronised and made to look stupid (SEE: The Big Bang Theory). However, after a conversation with authour Andy Robb on Twitter (@ThatAndyBloke fyi) about painting Warhammer models, I thought to myself I bet this guy gets it. Of course, he’s dressed as Frodo in his profile picture, which lends comfort too.

Geekhood is hilarious, touching, sweet, painful and brilliant. I once heard it described as being like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s so much more emotionally mature than that, and it’s filled with such a dose of British wit and self-deprecation that it could never be like that. I like TBBT, but this is what that show would be like if it was written by the people from the Inbetweeners, it’s so quintessentially British. I found myself reminded of all of my school chums, our afternoons discussing whether we thought Artemis Entrei would be a fighter and rogue multiclass (that’s D&D by the by, and ACE Fantasy novels to boot). Archie and his sense for pushing anything serious aside struck quite a chord with me, I’ve never really enjoyed facing the tough stuff in life, and I sympathise with Archie about it all effects your sleeping and dreams, because it really does. All in all, Andy is clearly a Geek at heart, and all the gaming culture is spot on, the film references are perfectly placed to the point where I was laughing out loud in the staff room at work. Archie’s Inner Monologue is scathing and sarcastic, and his external self is a brilliant mix of wanting to do what’s best and self-doubt in what people think about him.

I suppose what it all comes down to is a great coming-of-age story, it’s like Louise Rennison for Geeky boys, like Adrian Mole for the Star Wars generation. It’s about how a socially inept group of boys deal with meeting and dealing with the fairer sex, how they discover all sorts of new hormonal responses (with guffaw-inducing consequences – BRAS!) & also come to terms with who they are themselves. Just because something you’re passionate about isn’t “cool” doesn’t mean it’s wrong, so accept your quirks, hold confidence in what you love, and people will see that, and they won’t care what kind of demons you can summon. NOTE: Always cast protection from evil prior to summoning Demons, they can be tricky little fellas.

The dialogue snaps and crackles with wit, sarcasm and genuinely sweet passages, bucket loads of film/book/TV references and a healthy dose of tea, which is a staple diet of Archie’s household. It deals with some really complex themes about growing up, and about family discord in a down to Earth, non-patronising and funny way, so I think it’s an important book for young boys to realise that it’s OK to feel their feelings, and to talk about them, before they end up exploding like the Death Star. It deals with things in a way that will appeal to boys, using humour as a good balance to the embarrassment. 

If you’re a proud Geek, read it. If you’re a closet Geek, get yourself out and read it. If you’re not a Geek, read it and learn to appreciate the differences in people. It’s ace! If Archie had loved Green Day and Alkaline Trio, with an older brother endlessly feeding him new great Sci-Fi and Fantasy, then I’d be suspicious Andy Robb was doing a Truman Show on my whole life. I really hope there’s more to look forward to. Andy, if you do read this: Set d20’s to stun.

‘Till next time lords and ladies, I’ll be playing lots of tasty Video Games!

D